The State Department said it doesn't intend to make public roughly 55,000 pages worth of emails that belong to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton until January 15, 2016, two weeks before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
Government lawyers disclosed the proposed date for the first time Monday night in court documents, in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by VICE News last January, months before the controversy erupted over Clinton's use of private email to conduct official business during her tenure as Secretary of State. VICE News sought Clinton's emails and a wide range of other documents pertaining to her work as Secretary of State.
Last March, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said a review of Clinton's emails would "take months." But in a 13-page declaration filed in US District Court in Washington, DC Monday night, John Hackett, the State Department's FOIA chief, said the "intensive," time consuming task of reviewing the electronic communications will not be completed until the end of the year.
"The collection is … voluminous and, due to the breadth of topics, the nature of the communications, and the interests of several agencies, presents several challenges," Hackett said. He noted that the emails would will be publicly released next January on the State Department's website, absent any "unanticipated circumstances, or circumstances" beyond the State Department's control.
The declaration includes previously undisclosed details about the State Department's work on the Clinton emails. Hackett said the emails were turned over to the State Department by Clinton in "paper form in twelve bankers' boxes" last December.
"Secretary Clinton provided these records in response to a letter sent by the Department of State to former Secretaries requesting that, if former Secretaries or their representatives were "aware or [were to] become aware in the future of a federal record, such as an email sent or received on a personal email account while serving as Secretary of State, that a copy of this record be made available to the Department. . . if there is reason to believe that it may not otherwise be preserved in the Department's recordkeeping system," Hackett said in his declaration.
Once the emails were turned over, Hackett said, the State Department had to organize the emails.
"This included foldering, boxing, and creating a box level inventory of the records," he said. "In consultation with the National Archives and Records Administration, the [State] Department also conducted a page-by-page review of the documents to identify, designate, mark, and inventory entirely personal correspondence, i.e., those documents that are not federal records, included within the 55,000 pages."
Clinton's use of personal email to conduct official business during her first four years as Secretary of State was first revealed by the New York Times last March, and has since snowballed into a potentially epic scandal. It has been widely reported that Clinton's decision to use private email was a means to thwart FOIA requests. Under federal law, Clinton's work-related emails would be considered government records and should be preserved on the State Department's servers in accordance with the Federal Records Act so that journalists, historians, and the public can access them.
During Clinton's time as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, the State Department received at least a half-dozen FOIA requests for her emails covering various issues. But Clinton operated a private server out of her home, and her emails were not accessible to the FOIA analysts tasked with processing the requests. The State Department has failed to produce any records responsive to the requests, some of which dated back five years.
Clinton addressed the email controversy in a news conference last March at the United Nations. She said her decision to exclusively use a private email account to conduct official business was a matter of "convenience," and she acknowledged that "in hindsight" she should have used a government email account.
"When I got to work as Secretary of State, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and my personal emails instead of two," Clinton said. "Looking back, it would have been better if I had simply used a separate email account and used a separate phone, but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue."
After the New York Times broke the story about Clinton's use of her personal email, Clinton took to Twitter and announced that she wanted all of her emails to be released as soon as possible. The State Department said it has since been bombarded with additional FOIA requests and dozens of lawsuits. Hackett said the State Department's FOIA office has "63.5 fulltime employees to address these numerous FOIA requests and appeals, as well as FOIA litigation."
'The team managing this project has met daily since early April to implement and oversee this large undertaking.'
In a footnote in his declaration, Hackett said the State Department has received nearly 14,000 new requests since October 2014 "and is currently engaged in nearly 80 FOIA litigation cases, many of which involve court-ordered document production schedules."
Hackett said the Clinton email "project" is staffed with a "project manager and two case analysts as well as nine FOIA reviewers who devote the entirety of their time at the State Department to this effort, plus other analysts and information technology specialists who provide collateral assistance to this review in addition to their regular duties.
"The team managing this project has met daily since early April to implement and oversee this large undertaking," he said.
Hackett said the review of the emails requires the Clinton project team to hand-process and scan all 55,000 pages "to ensure that all information is being captured in the scanning process. " This involves steps "that are time consuming and labor intensive," he said.
"It took the Department five weeks to perform the scanning process, which was completed recently in May," Hackett said. "There will be further work required to load these into a searchable database, which will be completed by mid-June." The scanning process was complicated This process was complicated by the fact "that some, but not all, of the paper records that the Department received [from Clinton] were double-sided."
Before publicly releasing the emails, the State Department needs to consult with "a broad range of subject matter experts within the department and other agencies as well as potentially foreign governments."
"These records are comprised of communications to or from the former Secretary of State, who was responsible for the overall direction and supervision of the full range of activities of the Department, which operates in approximately 285 locations around the globe," Hackett said.
This month, the State Department's FOIA office began to review and redact about 1,000 emails per week. The emails are then sent to "subject matter experts" made up of State Department foreign policy experts for "consultation and review" and then dispatched to the Office of Legal Adviser for another review.
Upon receiving Clinton's emails last December, the State Department conducted a separate review to search for any emails related to the 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Those records were turned over to Republican lawmakers in Congress who are investigating the attacks.
"As a result of that manual review, the Department located and produced to the House Select Committee 296 emails composed of approximately 850 pages," Hackett said. "In light of the public interest in those records and the fact that the Department already has identified them within the larger collection, the Department has prioritized the FOIA review of those 296 e-mails."
But the State Department's review of the Benghazi emails, expected to be publicly released sometime this month, "has highlighted several factors that it expects will affect the timing of the review of the remaining e-mails provided by Secretary Clinton."
"Like the Department of State itself, each of the U.S. Government agencies that need to review these documents deals with sensitive, emergent issues, which may require them to reallocate priorities and resources in response to changing events around the globe. Thus, the amount of time that other agencies may need to review these documents cannot be predicted with precision," Hackett said, noting that the review of the emails by other government agencies, including the CIA, could delay the State Department's anticipated January 15, 2016 release of the emails.
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